A: How to Tell Time

In Modern Standard Arabic the ordinal numbers are used to tell time. Although in colloquial Arabic, the cardinal numbers are usually used, in the media, the MSA forms are used so it is good to know them. Below is a review of telling time using MSA. The review is brief, but it should give you all you will really need to know on the subject.

  one o’clock
الساعةُ الواحدةُ
  two o’clock
الساعةُ الثانيةُ
  three o’clock
الساعةُ الثالثةُ
  four o’clock
الساعةُ الرابعةُ
  five o’clock
الساعةُ الخامسةُ
  six o’clock
الساعةُ السادسةُ
  seven o’clock
الساعةُ السابعة
  eight o’clock
الساعةُ الثامنةُ
  nine o’clock
الساعةُ التاسعةُ
  ten o’clock
الساعةُ العاشرةُ
  eleven o’clock
الساعةُ الحاديةَ عشرةَ
  twelve o’clock
الساعةُ الثانيةَ عشرةَ


Note that instead of using the ordinal for واحد , which is أوّل in the masculine and أولى in the feminine, the feminine form of واحد is used. Other than that, the ordinals are used. If you need to review the ordinals, go to the section in this book on the numbers in Arabic.

Below are a couple of examples showing how these ordinals are used in telling time.

  What time is it? Two o’clock 
كم الساعةُ؟ الساعةُ الثانية.
  We arrived at the city at 8 o’clock 
وصلنا الى المدينة في الساعة الثامنة.


The words ربعُ quarter, ثُلث third, and نصف half, are commonly used in telling time.  Normally they are made definite.

  nine thirty 
الساعة التاسعةُ والنِصفُ
  one fifteen 
الساعةُ الواحدة والربعُ
  I study the Arabic language every day from five o’clock to seven o’clock in the evening because I love this language the way correspondents love truth
كلَّ يوم ادرس اللغة العربية من الساعة الخامسة الى الساعة السابعة مساءً لاني احب هذه اللغة حب المراسلين للحقيقة.


إلاّ is used before رُبع and ثُلث to express the equivalent of “quarter to” the hour or “twenty minutes” to the hour. When preceded by إلاّ these words are in the indefinite accusative.

  What time is it , my dear? It’s quarter to three (two forty-five)
كم الساعةُ يا حبيبي؟ الساعة الثالثةُ آلا رُبعاً.
  When did the mail arrive? It arrived at twenty minutes to ten
متى وصل البريد؟ وصل في الساعة العاشرة إلا ثُلثاً.


The word دقيقة (plural دقائق ) means “minute”. For “one minute” and “two minutes” after the hour, the singular and dual are used respectively. After that, the ordinal numbers are used with دقيقة .

  One minute after twelve 
الساعةُ الثانية عشرةَ ودقيقة
  Two minutes after twelve 
الساعةالثانيةَ عشرةَ ودقيقتان
 We arrived at the director’s office at five minutes after twelve
وصلنا الى مكتب المدير في الساعة الثانية والدقيقة الخامسة.
 The director kicked us out of his office at twelve twenty-five because we made fun of him
اخرجنا المدير من مكتبه في الساعة الثانية والدقيقة الخامسة والعشرين لاننا ضحكنا عليه.


دقائق is used with إلاّ for constructions such as “five minutes to three”. See the following page.

  The director contacted us at five minutes to one and apologized to us and invited us to his office again
اتصل المدير بنا في الساعة الواحدة إلا خمسَ دقائقَ واعتذر لنا ودعانا الى مكتبهِ من جديد.
  We arrived at his office at two forty-five but he kicked us out again at ten minutes to three
رجعنا الى مكتبه في الساعة الثانية والدقيقة الخامسة والاربعين ولكنه اخرجنا في الساعة الثالثة إلا عشرَ دقائقَ.


While there are other features related to telling time, the above should suffice for almost all situations you are likely to encounter listening to or reading MSA. In colloquial Arabic, the situation is a bit different. The cardinals are used for the hour (with the corresponding dialect’s pronunciation), and the ordinals are not used with دقيقة. For example 3:25 would be الساعة ثلاثة وخمسة وعشرين دقيقة – pronounced somewhat differently from dialect to dialect. In fact, دقيقة is itself usually dropped. Furthermore, usually time is given for the hour, the quarter hour, the half hour, and a quarter till the hour. So time in colloquial is considerably easier and is what you will actually find more practical in day to day life in the Arab world.


5 responses to “A: How to Tell Time”

  1. Andy Jainanan Avatar
    Andy Jainanan

    Hey! I see sometimes see the phrases with the taa marbuta not being pronounced. Is the time presented in an idaafa?

  2. Atilla Avatar


  3. Juan Avatar

    I think there is a typo in the original book that has been maintained here.
    In the third table counting from the end of the chapter, there is this sentence:
    “What time is it , my dear? It’s quarter to three (two forty-five)”
    In the arabic translation:
    كم الساعةُ يا حبيبي؟ الساعة الثالثةُ آلا رُبعاً.
    there might be a typo in the word آلا and could be إلّا instead.

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